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The Alcoholic's Guide to Music Streaming

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Fordham University

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The Alcoholic's Guide to Music Streaming

Your definitive, easy-to-metabolize guide to music streaming

Liam Semple

12.10.17

Read Time: 10 minutes.

Think about what kind of music listener you are.

Do you like choosing your music and building your own playlists rather than letting an AI DJ do it for you? Think artists are being paid too fairly for their work? Have you shamelessly spent more than you needed to on audio equipment? Ya like jazz?

Legally listening to music has never been cheaper. Lucky for you, there are plenty of options, but where do you start? Much like entering the world of alcohol, entering the world of music streaming can be daunting. For your reading pleasure, I’ve organized the major streaming services by their closest analogous alcohol.

For the everyperson, there’s... SPOTIFY PREMIUM, THE DRAUGHT BEER
You drink beer, everyone you know drinks beer, and beer rules. That’s Spotify. There’s nothing special about it, but there really isn’t a case where it’d be a bad call to throw on a beer. I mean, Spotify.

Spotify is one of the best platforms there is for sharing playlists with your friends, and has some of the better curated playlists out of all the streaming services. It trims the fat of its predecessors’ interfaces and features, while expanding its library and adding exclusive content like studio sessions with relevant artists (RIP MTV). With the addition of music videos this past April, Spotify basically has it all. Spotify Premium is $10 a month, $5 for students, and allows you to stream in full 320kbps MP3 audio quality.

The only real downside to Spotify is that if you like your artists paid fairly, then make sure you’re buying CDs and going to concerts because Spotify basically pays its artists in wet nickel rolls (380,000 plays per month if you hope to make minimum wage). If none of the following services appeal to you, then you can’t go wrong with an ice-cold, hoppy Spotify.


For the snooty elitist, there’s… TIDAL, THE VINTAGE CHAMPAGNE
Your mother swears to you that paying $280 for champagne is worth it. You take a sip but can’t tell the difference between it and the $3 variant you drank six bottles of the weekend prior. Your mother insists that there is a difference and that it’s worth the financial markup. That’s Tidal, a product 1) whose higher quality you have to be equipped to recognize, and 2) you must be a little bit financially irresponsible to enjoy fully.
Ostensibly, there are good reasons to not like Tidal. They can’t seem to decide on a consistent graphical interface, their app can be buggy, and there’s no Metallica (for some… reason?).

But, before you keep scrolling, there’s a lot to like, too. With Tidal you get curated playlists comparable to Spotify’s in quality, first dibs on concert tickets and other events, exclusive streams of festivals and shows, more tracks (including exclusives from Kanye West, Jay-Z, Beyonce, and others), much higher-quality audio, and a hell of a lot higher artist payout than Spotify.

Tidal’s whole schtick is CD-quality streaming. In a 320kbps stream (Spotify’s maximum), some of the song is “shaved off” in order to make the file smaller, but Tidal offers 1411kbps lossless audio. Downloading music will take up more space on your phone, and if you haven’t spent a nauseating amount on headphones, you probably won’t notice the difference, though you can tell all your friends you do in order to justify your investment.

Also, the Hi-Fidelity plan is the only music service I’ve seen that’ll rob you of $20 per month ($10 for students), so be ready to explain why your wallet has a giant Lemonade-shaped hole in it. Tidal’s normal-priced $10 tier ($5 for students) will net you 320kbps audio, but on an even audio-quality playing field, Tidal can seem like the RoseArt to Spotify’s Crayola if you’re looking to share your music.

Whether you choose Tidal over Spotify is really a matter of balancing these pros and cons. Tidal’s pricing, admittedly, is a shot to its foot, and your face. However, if you think artists should be paid more, or you’ve invested in a pair of Oppo PM-3 headphones using your summer lifeguarding money, or if you just like Jay-Z, then give Tidal a sip until you understand what it’s all about.


For servants to our robot overlords, there’s… GOOGLE PLAY MUSIC, THE LITE BEER
Lite Beer is great, isn’t it? Many variants taste the same as regular beer, and you can drink to excess without ingesting nearly as many calories! That is, until you stop to think about how lite beer really only exists so that you can feel slightly more self-conscious when paying a corporation to sedate you. That’s Google Play Music. Delicious and clean, but secretly Skynet.

Off the bat, Google Play Music seems like it’s broken both its legs and fallen on its face before the first hurdle. It doesn’t have the audio quality, artist payout, or track-count of Tidal, and lacks many of Spotify’s increasingly standard features. Also, its interface is kind of ugly, and you’ll be clicking through so many folders to get to the curated playlists you’ll think you’d alt-tabbed into your Google Sheets.

If Google Play Music excels at one thing it’s the ease with which you can save your own MP3s to your cloud. That works really well. Also, Google Play Music comes bundled with YouTube Red (if you don't know what that is, click here), which is a nice service, though also riddled with its own issues (such as how unevenly it disperses your $10 between your preferred content creators).

That said, nothing can overshadow the fact that Google Play Music is kind of evil. Linked as it is to your Google account, it will recommend to you songs based on your browsing history, which gets real creepy real fast. If you believe in a benevolent God named Google, and don’t mind covering your eyes every now and then, you won’t notice that you’re drinking a watered-down version of the same product.


For the begrudging Apple employee, there’s... APPLE MUSIC, THE NIHAMANCHI
If you’ve never heard of Nihamanchi, it’s an alcoholic beverage enjoyed by indigenous South American people. It’s sweet, and is said to taste of buttermilk. It’s also fermented with human saliva, and that’s Apple Music - sweet on the outside, but full of stirred spit.

If you’re old enough to remember paying for MP3s individually and voting for William Jennings Bryan then you will recall Apple’s Jurassic service, iTunes. Yes, time has not been kind to monopolistic armed robbery, but rest assured, Apple Music is here both to keep Apple in the game, and to throw a sheet over the corpse of Beats Music.

If you have an iPhone, then Apple Music is already on your phone, and you get a 90-day free trial to test it out. The interface on iPhone can be confusing, and Apple Music only offers 256kbps quality streams. Apple hosts some exclusive albums, but doesn’t keep them hostage like Tidal, instead releasing them to other services after a few weeks, so you’re not missing out by not subscribing. If you have an Apple watch, then Apple Music is certainly the most convenient option, but other than that, you don’t have to drink the spit just to be polite.


For the true adventurer, there's... SOUNDCLOUD GO, THE HARD LIQUOR
I know “Hard Liquor” is a wide net of alcohol, but Soundcloud is a wide net of music. You have the entire world of alcohol at your disposal with liquor; and not just straight up/on the rocks, but fruity mixes and bizarre cocktails as well. That said, you’ll have a sea of plastic-handles and “well, it’s $10 cheaper” constantly swirling your ankles.

Soundcloud was designed to be a YouTube of sounds, where anyone can post their music for free. Unsurprisingly for a user-generated platform, it hosts by far the most tracks of any streaming service (more than four times what you’ll find on Spotify). Also unsurprisingly, it’s your one-stop destination for an interminable garbage-pile nightmare of original-but-terrible remixes, raps, and ambient music.

If you want to listen to your favourite major label records, you’ll have to pay $10 per month for Soundcloud Go, a subscription service which allows for offline play and eliminates ads. Soundcloud offers a mixture of 320kbps and 1411kbps audio, as well.

The interface is bizarre if you’re used to any other streaming service, but after an acclimation period you’ll find a truly endless library of music. It’s up to you to find the right mixers, though.


For the curious and the bored, there’s... BANDCAMP, THE MICROBREW
The same buzz, except you can feel good about supporting the little guys. You’ll be happy to pay extra to give quality micro-streams that little boost, and that’s Bandcamp.

Streaming on Bandcamp (desktop and mobile app) is totally free with an account. Yes, FREE, without ads. And did I mention Bandcamp also boasts the same lossless audio quality of Tidal? Why are we allowed to just steal this music?

The catch is that Bandcamp is for independent artists, whose music you may stream for free or buy for download. It’s like Soundcloud’s free tier, only for independent artists. However, the two services have some cultural disimilarities. A minimum download price is set by the artist, and you may pay what you want beyond that. It’s a terrific way to directly support bands that wouldn’t make that wet nickel roll on Spotify, but these are also the only songs you’re likely to find on the service. So on one hand, it is a revolutionary service for self-distribution. On the other, if someone else you know has heard of a song, it’s probably not on Bandcamp.

If you’re ever looking for something exciting and new, order a pint of Bandcamp. You’re sure to find something you like.


THE FINAL VERDICT

Now that music is no longer considered a physical commodity, Spotify may be your last choice for a home social music experience. Seeing what your friends are listening to (whether you want to or not), posting playlists/songs to your webpage, and in general being connected to your friends’ listening habits is Spotify’s biggest strength.

On the other hand, if music is something that’s deeply personal for you, and you want the highest possible quality, or greater engagement with and access to more artists, or to pay artists [a little bit] more, then Tidal is your option.

If you’re 99% of people, your choice only needs to be between Spotify and Tidal, with some Soundcloud/Bandcamp on the side. Your decision between the two relates to my initial request: think about what kind of music listener you are.